26 January 2016

'Airlift': A Review

Raja Krishna Menon delivers something almost unheard of in Bollywood: a realistic drama and a gripping thriller. Right at the start you realise this is not just another Bollywood movie – whether it is the impressive scenes of a Kuwait City ravaged by the invading Iraqi army (2 Aug 1990) or the grim depiction of the fear and unpredictability of a war-zone. This is not a boy-meets-girl movie.

The saga of evacuating the 1.7 lakh Indians in Kuwait is portrayed with all its twists and turns – including (of course) the infuriating slowness of India's bureaucratic machinery, whose wheels grind at a snail's pace. The script and the direction keep getting better as the movie progresses. The actors do a competent job. They don't try to overact, but simply allow the script to do its work. Akshay Kumar gives a restrained and understated performance.

The movie is inevitably inviting comparisons with two classics of this genre: Schindler's List and Hotel Rwanda (anybody who mentions Argo here should be shot). Airlift doesn't match those masterpieces, but such comparisons show its quality. This is a remarkable achievement for Raja Krishna Menon working in the Bollywood system.

Watch Airlift. Not because it is patriotic, but because it is a good story – well written, well directed and well acted. The patriotism is just a bonus :-)

Liberals are calling the movie 'jingoistic'. Apparently, only Hollywood has the licence to make patriotic movies. Only Americans have the right to be patriotic. We Indians are supposed to be like dead stones.

15 January 2016

Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight'

What is a movie? It is a story told by using moving images and words. That is, in a movie the purpose of words is to tell the story. Words are the means to an end - not an end in itself. The end of a movie is the story.

This is how almost all movies are. Except Quentin Tarantino's. For QT (and his fans), it is the other way around. The story is the means, and the words are the end. The story is just an excuse to bombard the viewer with words – lots of words.

In one sense, this is justifiable. Real life is like this only. People simply talk (a lot) all the time. Their words (and actions) are completely random. They are not part of a straight-line story inside a scriptwriter's head. So in that sense, this style/approach is more realistic. But then again, one purpose of art is to impose some order on a chaotic reality – rather than merely reproducing it as it is.

So that is the USP of QT – words, a lot of words. His movies are filled with the characters having random conversations on everything from the meaning of life to the most mundane matters. QT fans love it. QT critics hate it.

The second feature of QT is violence – lots of violence. But this is not a unique feature. What is unique perhaps is the blood. Other directors have higher body counts. But QT has the highest litre count.

The third and final feature of QT is nihilism. There is no 'victory of good over evil' or 'triumph of the human spirit' in QT. Life is meaningless. And everybody dies in the end – both the bad guys and the good guys.

So this is the QT package. If you like this, you will like Hateful Eight. It is verbose, violent and nihilistic. Samuel L Jackson holds the movie together with his masterful presence. Walton Goggins supports him with a brilliant performance. And Ennio Morricone's music is a majestic contrast (or complement?) to the X-rated language, violence and nihilism.